Monitoring Manatees in the Winter 

by Andy Garrett

 

Winter is coming, and with it, a drop in water temperatures throughout Florida.  Once the ambient water temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees will begin to actively seek out warm water refuge in order to avoid cold stress, a major health issue for manatees.   Manatees are proficient at locating warmer water, sometimes finding water that is just a degree or two greater than ambient.  These seasonal habitat resources can be created from ground water runoff, water treatment plant discharges, deep basins, and canals.  Manatees may also take advantage of the heat produced from decaying organic matter in the sediment by burrowing in the sediment during rest. These types of warm water sources can be especially useful to manatees during early season cold snaps or as they migrate to larger sources of warm water such as springs and power plant outflows.  Each year, for various reasons, some manatees don’t find adequate warm water.  Some of these cases involve naïve, newly weaned manatees who are experiencing their first winter on their own and become wayward.  Other cases may involve experienced manatees that wait too long to migrate to the springs and power plants or get caught off guard by sudden or severe cold weather. Manatees that do not find sufficient warm water can develop cold stress symptoms which eventually may lead to a mortality. Staff from the FWRI marine mammal research and rescue program coordinate manatee rescues throughout the state and are strategically located to efficiently respond to reports of distressed manatees that typically peak during the colder months. Over the past five winter seasons, FWC biologists along with stranding network partners have rescued 176 manatees, averaging 35 per winter. A total of 441 manatees have been rescued over the past five years, averaging 88 per year. Track these rescue efforts on our website.

Please call the FWC Wildlife Alert number (1-888-404-FWCC), if you see a sick, injured, or dead manatee.

Check out our Flickr page for photos of a recent release of a manatee mother-calf pair in Brevard County.

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